Why don't you just pay them more?

Everybody thinks they are underpaid. It's true, and this sentiment probably even scales with the more money someone makes. We see it on public display in sports all the time and I'm sure it happens in the business world just as much. Most people that do a specialized job feel like they have outplayed their contract.

In the academic science game, this is certainly true. No one feels like they get paid enough, especially after years of training. Grad students don't have a lot of take home salary, and while each level above them is an upgrade in pay, academics is not a place to get rich. There's been a discussion at DrugMonkey about grad student pay and relative comparisons, but that's not what I want to talk about today.

I'm more interested in why scientific trainees are not paid more*. Many people seem to think it is just a matter of the PI of a lab either not caring or being stingy. While undoubtedly there are plenty of uncaring and stingy people running labs, there are constraints on people who are neither, as well. This particular post was partly spurred by a comment by LabSpaces overlord Brian Krueger on one of Gerty-Z's posts, in which he stated:

I think a lot of professors are stindgy bastards. It always really pissed me off when I was in a lab where the PI would brag about how much money he had to waste on new computers or whatever at the end of the fiscal year and yet the undergrads in the lab are unpaid and the techs haven't seen raises in years. I say pay your good students and pay them well. Good people are really hard to find and the "compensation" of training is such a ridiculously arcane idea. Sometimes people need to eat too. And in this case, I think you're right. A student shouldn't have to choose between debt and research, especially if the PI can afford to pay them.

Now, to be fair, in response to my comment that I will elaborate on here, Brian did clarify that he was talking about a lab in which the PI genuinely did seem like a douche. But I do think this sentiment is held by a lot of students and postdocs, as evidenced from a couple of years reading this here blogosphere.

So what are the constraints on pay?

Well, the most obvious is grant funds. I realize that the typical trainee or technician doesn't care where their money comes from, but the reality of their PI's situation is relevant to the question. If we think about a postdoc, for example, the salary is only one part of the equation. If a PDF makes $45K / year, their benefits are roughly 60% of that, or $27K. Together, that's $72K / year from a budget of a grant, but it gets better because in the submitted budget the PI has to factor in the university overhead. Now you're looking at $72K X 55% (or so), which means that the hit to the grant budget is a little more than $110K / year. I know that I am in the minority of science bloggers in that I am primarily NSF-based in my finding opportunities, but I think people might be interested to take a look at the NSF funding info page and to get a feel for the median annual size of grants by NSF organization. If you don't want to click on the link, I'll spoil the surprise and tell you its in the $110K-$120K range. For BIO, it was $143K in 2009, but drilling down a bit you will see that even that number is slightly misleading due to some bigger money programs in the mix. If you look at DM's post from yesterday on NIGMS at NIH, the median funding level would appear to be $220K per year there. You can see where this is going....

Students, despite popular belief, are no bargain on a grant either. Some departments subsidize them in a significant way, but if not, you're talking a $25K salary, plus benefits (in the summer), plus tuition (no overhead paid on tuition, at least) and O/H on roughly $30K. All in all, about $60K / year. If you are writing an NSF budget and want to include a student, postdoc and actually do some work, publish it and talk about it at meetings, things get interesting.

So why can't a postdoc get $5K more? Because $5K in salary is not $5K on a grant, it's (($5K X 1.6) X 1.55) = $12,400 X 3 year = $37,200. I don't know about everyone else, but I struggle to keep my budget within what has been suggested to me as a fundable range. Adding almost $40K is not an easy thing to do because we are in competition with similar proposals that may require less funds. If your labs runs on multi-R01 NIH fuel, a $5K raise for three postdocs for only three years means someone gets one year less to work in the lab. If you draw the short straw, would you rather have two years with an extra $5K in your pocket each year, or that extra year at $40K?

Another issue is unions. Whereas unions may be to the advantage of the whole, IME they can be smothering to a talented technician who deserves a solid raise. In many cases a substantial pay increase $5K-$10K can only be accomplished with a new job description that needs to be opened up for applicants and can be taken without question by a more senior individual from that union who possess the same title elsewhere. How many technicians or PIs are willing to risk that?

Graduate student unions also put restrictions on how much students can get paid. Although they ensure that students have a minimum salary, get raises and have a collective voice, they don't allow for much flexibility in what can be paid to a student. Make no mistake, I think removing grad student unions would result in a worse situation for grad students, on the whole, but if you are going to complain about pay, your union is the place you should start.

And we haven't even gotten to the issue of competitiveness. I would bet that most people reviewing grants would tell you that they don't take into consideration what the proposal budget is, but I bet they are not telling you the whole truth. If the budget seems reasonable, no one pays attention. But, what if one investigator budgets $5K more per year in a three year proposal for a student, tech and PDF than someone else proposing something not to far off. The first proposal is going to come in $100K (15-20% of many NSF budgets for that amount of time) more than the other, and in less the science in the first one is substantially better for one reason or another, that is going to be noticed.

Finally, having grant funds and having money for salary can be two different things. While start-up funds are not categorized, grant funds are. Money in the computer budget, for example, is gold because you need to justify money in that category with a special form that needs to get cleared at you agency. Money earmarked for foreign travel and equipment is similarly guarded. A budget can therefore roll over a substantial amount of money from one year to the next without actually having any dollars available for salary.

I am writing about this because I had no idea how research budgets really work when I was a trainee and of course I could have used more cash in my beer fund pocket, but from the other side of the desk, it isn't always that easy. Unless the overall budgets for proposals is allowed to make a jump (and at 10% funding rates, where is that extra coming from?), I'm not sure where the extra money is going to come from to give grant-supported trainees a substantial raise.

*I'm interested in my professors aren't paid more too, but that's a topic for another day

40 responses so far

  • Namnezia says:

    Nicely put. Also, grad student stipends are fixed at my university so I have no control over the stipend. When I started my lab I hired a tech and had to file a job description with the university. Once I settled on a candidate, the hire had to be approved by HR and they set the salary. I objected thinking that her salary was not enough, but they gave me no choice. So every year I've been asking for the highest raise possible for staff, but even then the raise has to be approved by HR because they limit the amount of raises that each department is allocated. Which means that if she gets a big raise, someone else doesn't. Thus I have to give her a perfect performance report, which I am not allowed to do unless HR approves it. And what gets me is that she is being paid from my grant, so why should they dictate how much I can or cannot pay her?

  • chall says:

    It's always nice to see the numbers out in writing. I remember the first time I realised that the uni took about 50-65% in OH cost from grants... I had my jaw at the floor but did understand a bit more how complicated it is to finangle 1 post-doc, 2 grad students, tech and 4 grant of various size while trying to get how much money one really needs to buy supplies for the lab when someone is asking for a raise ^^

    Personally, I wonder if there wouldn't be better to look more into that part - OH cost and "what uni provides" - since at least since I was an undergrad, the startup fund/"what comes with the professor chiar" has changed drastically although the OH cost has actually gone up. i.e. the grant reciever/(ass.)professor gets less compared to back in the day.

    Not that everything was better back in the day 😉 , but there was more money around.....

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I remember the first time I realised that the uni took about 50-65% in OH cost from grants…

    Chall, this is a little misleading. In fact, the O/H is added on to the total budget, so rather than being 50% of a grant, it is equivalent (more or less) to 50% of the direct costs. For example, if the direct costs on a grant are $100K, the O/H would be $50K, making the total budget $150K.

    When you look at it that way, the university actually takes 1/3 of the total budget if its O/H rate is 50%.

  • chemicalbilology says:

    Right on, dude, right on. I also think of this completely differently now that I am on the other side of the table. Two other issues affecting this bottom line:

    1. Budget cuts. You might TRY to budget for an amount that would give your two postdocs a 5K raise, and even get scored well and funded. Then the funding agency administratively cuts your budget by 10% (which is almost the norm these days) upon funding. No more raise, and maybe not even two whole postdocs anymore.

    2. Average payscales at your institution. I'm in a small university town situation, where average postdoc pay is WAY below the NIH scale (like, 10K/yr below). When I went to put my postdoc onto the NIH scale, I got some HUGE pushback from my department, the business office, and HR. I finally managed to get him started on NIH scale, but now I haven't been able to give him a raise for three years because a) there's no more money available to do so, and b) my department would not authorize it even if there was

  • Dan Gaston says:

    Interesting summary, although these specific reasons only really apply in the US and any country with a similar granting system. Here in Canada the situation is quite a bit different as we don't have University O/H costs associated with grants and our benefits work differently. There is some variation between Universities and Departments but in general a $5k raise is a $5k hit on a grant for that year and that's it.

    I've been fortunate as a Grad student that, even when I didn't have my own funding like I do now, my PI was very appreciative of good students and PDF's and gave them raises accordingly as they increased in seniority. The only real limitation being that if you start paying too well it can cause some friction within the department.

  • lylebot says:

    In my program the core funding opportunities have upper limits on how much you can request. In my (admittedly limited) experience, it's pretty much the number of PIs that determines which upper limit you're going to hit. Each PI = summer support + one grad student OR postdoc but probably not both + travel + overhead = not much wiggle room left.

    The link to the NSF funding info page is interesting, but I'm not sure I understand where the numbers are coming from. It gives funding rates of 20-40% for programs that I know are much lower. And the median annual budget for my "home" program is less than the upper limit for the smallest core funding opportunity in that program. Is it possible that the core programs account for less than half of funded grants?

  • Yeah, I'm feeling the financial crunch rather severely right now. Running out of money and everyone complaining that they didn't get a pay rise this year. The fact that NOBODY in our university, including me, got a pay rise seems to escape them. As does the fact that one of them is going to have to be let go in order to pay for the consumables the others will need to do their work.

  • BugDoc says:

    Great post, PLS. I wish I could pay everyone more, but unfortunately our budgets and the fiscal realities of science today, as well as the other issues you mentioned, are extremely limiting. If you never have to look at a budget, it's hard to appreciate how much lab personnel and science cost: not only reagents, animals, consumables, conference travel, publication costs, etc, all have to come out of a constrained budget.

  • becca says:

    Very good post, but I am concerned that some nuances may skew the calculations significantly...
    1) no unions around here. I loled at that.
    2) for NIH numbers, I don't think you can take the average 220,000 figure and THEN subtract what things cost from overhead. that 220,000 is the value for NIGMS DIRECT costs (never ignore the axis label!). In other words, NIH grants aren't worth the ~2X the NSF grants you cite are, but really ~4X (or more. NIGMS may well be lower than e.g. NCI)
    3) Although you *calculate* as though benefits relate directly to salary, that is not actually true. Just because you give someone 5k more/year in their pocket, does NOT mean their healthcare will necessarily cost more (granted, healthcare has been skyrocketing, so it may be unrealistic to assume that those benefit costs won't increase each year...which may well relate to the decreases in wages, but this is a GENERAL US economic trend, not a grad student specific thing. Actually, grad students [being a relatively young and healthy population] are cheaper to insure then many other groups- I know for us, our premiums didn't go up this year).
    4) I appreciate there is a learning curve when it comes to itemizing budgets, but having money left over in computer budget but not personnel budget strikes me as a rookie mistake (assuming your *priority* is the personnel). And in this grant climate, don't you KNOW budget cuts are coming? I'm not saying *pad* your budget, but have a realistic plan as to where you are going to cut from the get-go. You can choose to make that compensation, but it's just as *possible* to take it from something else.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Becca,

    RE#2, I wasn't subtracting anything, only giving info on median budget as an example of realistic budgets. The fact of the matter is that if there is a postdoc budget in grants and the PI gives everyone a raise during that grant (if it is not budgeted), then someone loses time on that grant.

    RE #3, in some places (my university included) benefits ARE calculated in direct proportion to salary for certain pay scales, so that is not actually an exaggeration when it comes to postdocs. Grad students are a very different story in this regard, but tech and postdoc salaries are subject to this.

    RE#4, If your grant is for 3-5 years and you budget a certain computer in yrs 2 or 3, for instance, how do you get the $$ amount for that computer? You use today's cost because it is what you have. Two or three years from now, the cost will be totally different for that same machine. The same goes for things like reagents, services, supplies, etc. Costs are not fixed in the long term, and whereas some things will only go up, many things go down. This is especially true for technology. You may just end up buying more hardware than you had originally budgeted for, but not necessarily.

    Also, "padding" a budget (which you are in fact suggesting, even if it is in the form of adding legit expenses that can be done without) is another way to make your budget less competitive. I'm not saying that we are in the era of lowest bid services here, but do you want to risk being 10% more than someone else proposing something similar? It is not as straight-forward as just tossing some random shit into the budget and cutting it later.

  • Odyssey says:

    Dude, you're wearing your meatpants in the pound again... 🙂

    Nice summary of what it's really like.

    @Becca:
    4) I appreciate there is a learning curve when it comes to itemizing budgets, but having money left over in computer budget but not personnel budget strikes me as a rookie mistake (assuming your *priority* is the personnel). And in this grant climate, don’t you KNOW budget cuts are coming? I’m not saying *pad* your budget, but have a realistic plan as to where you are going to cut from the get-go. You can choose to make that compensation, but it’s just as *possible* to take it from something else.

    You can't get away with obvious padding. Reviewers and PO's will catch it. A little is possible, but a little won't go far. And having money left in one budget category when another is running low or in the red is hardly a rookie mistake. It's impossible to know exactly how much you will spend in any category, so this happens a lot IME. And it's not always possible, and certainly not easy, to move money between categories - especially into or out of the computer funds.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I *tend to lean more toward giving people generous payraises (subject, as people have mentioned, to institutional rules/pushback) with the explicit understanding that this means that someone may lose their job at some point. Of course, nobody really *believes* they are going to get axed, no matter how open you are about finances. Or at least in my very limited experience anyway. Never had anyone leave for a new job in anticipation of all my poor talking and yes, I've had to lay people off for lack of cashola.

    It is not pleasant. It would be more pleasant to not have to lay people of and have them muttering behind my back about what a stingy bastard I am for never giving high enough raises.

    I figure two things. One, if a person is going to work for me, I want them thinking my lab is a good gig and one they'd like to keep. Second, under-paying to preserve jobs just perpetuates low pay in the long run.

    *I have adjusted my stance in the current economic times, I will admit. We have made a national shift in the US to "preserve jobs" mode and I can get behind that.

  • drugmonkey says:

    becca, Odyssey....

    re: padding the budget. Remember too, dear trainees, that your only apparent concern is getting your thesis work done and getting paid as much as possible to do it. The PI's concern is a sustainable laboratory model. Lack of production on a funded project can come because of insufficient resources to close the deal. Sometimes "for want of a horseshoe nail" has to be the primary concern of the PI. Trainees live in la-la land in which they expect funding to magically appear for both research and salary purposes...

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Dude, you’re wearing your meatpants in the pound again…

    I know, but they look so good on me.

    Second, under-paying to preserve jobs just perpetuates low pay in the long run.

    Agreed, but this something easier to deal with once established than it is when writing the formative grants for the lab. Someone with a good track record probably can get away with being 10% over another, less experienced investigator.

  • drugmonkey says:

    true Prof-like. although as PP and I have discussed, at this point under the NIH system, nobody is really raising an eyebrow at 5 yr, full modular R01 budgets. Or at least nowhere near to the extent to which you used to get comments about size of project tied to newbieness...

    so it is more a matter of how many awards you can get then the budget.

    (anyone who simply *has* to go over $250K / yr better have a damn good excuse, IMO. and "I'm all loaded up with two FTE techs, a grad student and a postdoc on a single R01-scale project is not a good excuse in my book)

  • I just reviewed a newbie R01 and had a budget concern that it was too small, and that the PI should ask for a full modular budget. Any advice that new PIs should ask for less than $250,000 per year for five years because it'll make it easier to get funded is woefully out of date.

  • theshortearedowl says:

    According to the American Medical Group Association, the median salary for neurosurgeons is $592,811.

    Just wanted to share that.

  • We have a set salary scale for postdocs, research assistants, etc, & a flat rate of 30% for benefits which is not negotiable. So increased salary -> mandatory increase in benefits. Grad students are all on a fixed rate so no raises permitted. I couldn't pay my peeps more even if I wanted to or if funds were available.

    And that annual 4% salary increase that's built into each budget? When your institution has a salary freeze in effect, NOBODY gets a raise. Nobody. Unless you get promoted with tenure in which case you still get a once off 10% raise.

  • FSGrad says:

    As a grad student, thanks for this. I think that we do all need to hear over and over that our PIs aren't out to get us, at least not salary-wise. And of course don't forget those of us who are supported as TAs...which are certainly beyond the control of the PI, department, and even sometimes university (my stipend happens to be fixed at the state level, which is delightful -- try getting a raise from the state legislature, if you think getting one from your PI is tough).

  • chall says:

    well, I should've stated 50-65% and I know what you mean. sloppy writing on my part. Still think it is fairly high compared with what "you get" but sure, as long as the grant agencies are on the train too (some of them back home aren't though, and do not want to give money that are taken out of OH/ add on extra)

    I do remember being very surprised though, since I thought 100K was lots of money and then looking at the budget seeing 35K going to OH, extra 15K for "salary" (since this was the health stuff) etc... all of a sudden 100K didn't seem much at all.

  • I agree with DM, fucking pay them. Don't string out the money but they need to know the consequences of this. Technicians at our institution flip flop labs due to funding situations and seem to land pretty easily. A lot of them like this because they get to learn new techniques, new science, and they will always gravitate back to the best boss when they can. Lab sizes are no longer static anymore rather resembling that of an accordion, expanding and contracting with funding. Another lab in the facility was going broke so we picked off the best talent because we had money and they are much happier here than their previous lab.

    But I also see PLS's perspective as in some places HR and departmental regulations can tie your hand, so what can you do. If they keep bitching about you being a stingy bastard, send them to the unemployment line and get someone else. You are the boss after all and don't have suffer bullshit from them, but then again you don't want to develop a bad reputation or kill lab morale. I had an old boss that cut lose a piece of shit technician that always complained about not getting paid enough and could be paid more if they were in other labs. He finally grew weary of this shit, and gave them a cardboard box and recommendation letter and told them to get the fuck out by the end of the day.

  • becca says:

    re:2- I am generally trying to argue in favor of budgeting in more raises, rather then trying to defend 'whenever you have 'left over' money, it ought to be funneled toward trainees'.
    re:3- very good to know.
    re: 4- Look, I'm not at all anticipating experienced PIs will be able to guess *every* budgeted item completely accurately. I'm just saying it seems like having a few extra thousand dollars a year lying around, just not in a budgetary category that could be used to give someone a raise, is much more likely to happen to newbie PIs. I don't see why it isn't reasonable to think about your grant in terms of layers of priority, and having some idea in the back of your mind what you'll put on the inevitable chopping block first.

    Also, it seems to me that given the current climate:
    1) it doesn't matter if you are established and have funds or not, you'll still be afraid of being unfunded, because labs expand and it's very rare (and requires enormous planning and some luck) to get everyone into a new position exactly when a grant runs out
    2) if grant reviewers are putting the budget under the microscope to that degree, anything that results in higher costs should result in putting the applicant at a disadvantage. Whether that's high overhead rates, or high institution set stipends, or even distance from most common meeting locations. Many of those things could create >10% discrepancies in grant budgets. Yet somehow, I don't read blog posts about how impossible it is to get grants if you are at Scripps or UCSF. Is this simply an erroneous sample biasing caused by a gap in blog coverage?

    @drugmonkey- I think a big part of the 'la-la-land' phenomenon is that PIs do NOT talk to trainees about these things. I suspect the rampant paranoia in academia leads some PIs (not all, DM, not all) to think "I shouldn't tell my trainees what grants I'm applying for. If I don't get them, they might think I'm not a good PI. If I do get them, they'll just want more money". Which of course just leads to trainees thinking their PIs aren't applying for many/enough grants.

  • Physician Scientist says:

    theshortearedowl : Are you saying you want someone working on your brain who makes $25K a year? This is a highly skilled position requiring YEARS of hard, physically exhausting training and mountains of debt.

    Becca: Remember that fringe is calculated on the salary as a whole and not how much benefits are actually being used. For example, a prof making $100K would pay an additional $29K in benefits. Paying a post-doc $5K more, means the actual salary increase is $5K + $1450 = $6450 despite the fact that the same benefits are being used.

  • Odyssey says:

    @Becca:
    re:2- I am generally trying to argue in favor of budgeting in more raises, rather then trying to defend ‘whenever you have ‘left over’ money, it ought to be funneled toward trainees’.
    re:3- very good to know.

    As PlS pointed out above, the issue isn't that raises haven't been budgeted. In fact at my institution we are required to budget for raises. The issue often is that institutions, in hard financial times such as now, make the decision that NO ONE gets a raise. Including people supported on grants with budgeted raises. Yes, that's oft-times stupid. But it's something we have no choice in.

    I don’t see why it isn’t reasonable to think about your grant in terms of layers of priority, and having some idea in the back of your mind what you’ll put on the inevitable chopping block first.

    I believe we do do prioritize in this way. At least I do. The problem is that the funds we receive from a grant aren't put into one big pot that we can use as we please. We have to split the funds into categories (personnel, supplies, travel, equipment, computers etc.). Once that is done it can be very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to move funds between categories. Yes, if the grant amount is reduced at the time of the award you can reprioritize, but after that, it can be very, very difficult. So if supply costs increase or personnel benefit costs go up (e.g. health insurance) more than anticipated, things can get difficult.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bora Zivkovic, carolmorton, C Anderson, Carla Davidson, ScientopiaBlogs and others. ScientopiaBlogs said: Why don’t you just pay them more? http://dlvr.it/64N3C [...]

  • Some grants held in Canada are subject to overhead costs (usually the ones awarded by the US government!), but not Canadian federal funds, and not most charities. However, the rate even for the former category is much lower than for US institutions; our rate is something like 30% on salaries, much less on travel, none at all on supplies and services. And we include 20% benefits on all grant applications that allow it (not all Canadian grants do, whereas some allow benefits for postdocs and techs but not students etc).

  • [...] Why don’t you just pay them more? [...]

  • drugmonkey says:

    In NIH initial peer review, becca, consideration of the overhead rate of the applicant institute is actually a no-no. So are other Program level strategies about bang for buck, keeping research programs alive, creating jobs and other such tradeoffs. Naturally such things do influence some individuals, but it is supposedly forbidden. Reviewers are there to advise the Program staff on scientific merit only. It is the job of Program to decide "well, this is a great app...but kinda expensive and we could fund two of these lesser apps for the same money".

    re: secretive PIs, yup, I can understand that phenotype is out there. Also, a PI might think that if s/he's constantly blathering about dismal funding then good people are going to bail a few months earlier than necessary or trainees are going to be all depressed and unproductive. I can't say I have the perfect solution, just one that works for my personal conscience.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I’m just saying it seems like having a few extra thousand dollars a year lying around, just not in a budgetary category that could be used to give someone a raise, is much more likely to happen to newbie PIs. I don’t see why it isn’t reasonable to think about your grant in terms of layers of priority, and having some idea in the back of your mind what you’ll put on the inevitable chopping block first.

    You are remembering that a raise is not a one-time expense, right? You can use funds at the end of a budget interval to buy some new toys and it is a one time expense. Give someone a raise and you are committing to that, no going back next year. I have heard rumor of people paying bonuses to trainees but I'm not really cognizant of how that worked, HR-wise.

  • I actually think grad students have a pretty good deal in the US (at least in the biosciences). They are being paid a livable as well as a chance to earn a higher degree. Postdocs on the other hand rarely receive the training that would compensate for the lower salary.

    A PhD , although inexperienced, should already know how to do research and acquire additional lab-based skills. What they lack are the skills and information they will need to successfully lead a research team. A postdoc aspiring to leadership role should be receiving serious training in lab and grant management. Many grad schools now offer courses in “training future faculty” but at the postdoc level these need to be more hands on and tailored to the individual’s career aspirations and proposed research programs.

    As it stands the typical postdoc just does research and then figures out how to do the job once they get a tenure-track job. They are smart people and they do ok in the end, but running a lab is a lot different from just doing research and an important part of getting tenure.

    It reflects poor training at the postdoc level that people are entering the job with inadequate training. The research experience is very important, and it is what the postdoc is getting paid to do. However, they are not getting paid enough to warrant 100% research, and just calling it a “training” position does not make it so.

    Universities need to enforce minimum salaries, but they also need to ensure the training component is delivered too.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    You are remembering that a raise is not a one-time expense, right? You can use funds at the end of a budget interval to buy some new toys and it is a one time expense. Give someone a raise and you are committing to that, no going back next year.

    This.

    Having a few extra thousand in one budget year has no bearing on whether you will have a few extra thousand sitting in the pot NEXT year.

  • becca says:

    "I’m just saying it seems like having a few extra thousand dollars a year lying around, "
    Given that I explicitly outlined a situation where the money for a recurring expense was available, yes, I am in fact aware that a salary change is a recurring expense.

    That said, giving a bonus is probably possible in many circumstances (at least, my uni supplies bonuses for other types of things, although structuring those as 'scholarships' may make it incompatible with coming from a federal grant, so it may be a different thing. Still, my university offers a cash incentive for applying for major federal fellowships [e.g. NSF], so I *think* there's some way to do an actual bonus).

    @DM- then shouldn't all budgetary decisions (at least those that don't ring fraud alarm bells) be irrelevant? I don't understand how this whole "oh noes! my grant won't get funded if it's 10% more than that other grant!" fear gets generated in the world you describe (is this an NSF vs. NIH difference? A function of the fact you personally work on relatively expensive science? personality/paranoia differences?)

  • drugmonkey says:

    I was referring to NIH. As I have said, full modular $250K / yr no longer is notable. The difference between, say, proposing $200K and $250K cannot possibly be measurable in grant outcome. Assuming the costs are reasonably well matched to the research plan.

    PlS was referring to NSF and it sounds as though it is more of an issue for applicants over there. I can very readily imagine that if NIH was still doing itemized budgets for everything, one of the micromanaging issues that would arise (and this is why they went to modular, btw) is if you said you were budgeting for a 7th year postdoc instead of a 2nd yr postdoc. Same thing if you argued that you were paying 20% over NRSA scale, just because you wanted to. I can see jerky reviewers jumping on that.

    So thank the modular budget of the NIH grant for what flexibility the PI does enjoy...

  • drugmonkey says:

    Regarding budgeting for raises....

    There are a few NIH grant types that still require itemized budgets- generally the BigMechs like Centers and Program Projects. So occasionally one needs to do this for a component project. In these cases, the amount that you are allowed to escalate the budget over successive years of the proposed project is limited by the NIH. I think it is 3% right now.

    Take a look-see at the year to year jumps in the early part of the NIH NRSA postdoctoral scale. Guess what?

  • drugmonkey says:

    To clarify my last comment, "escalation" refers to changes in a given cost item that recurs (like a salary, core charges or animal per diems). You can change the budget however you like* from year to year based on moving big picture stuff in and out of the expense sheet.

    *within the overall budgetary limits for the mechanism, of course.

  • tideliar says:

    @Dr. Girlfriend:
    "As it stands the typical postdoc just does research and then figures out how to do the job once they get a tenure-track job. They are smart people and they do ok in the end, but running a lab is a lot different from just doing research and an important part of getting tenure.

    It reflects poor training at the postdoc level that people are entering the job with inadequate training. The research experience is very important, and it is what the postdoc is getting paid to do. However, they are not getting paid enough to warrant 100% research, and just calling it a “training” position does not make it so.

    Universities need to enforce minimum salaries, but they also need to ensure the training component is delivered too."

    +1 PUSHUPS to you. Fucking, bang on right there.

  • Candid Engineer says:

    Totes late to this post, but why do benefits scale with salary for postdocs? The primary chunk of my benefits come from health& dental insurance, which Do not scale with salary. Yes, there is some lousy life insurance, which scales with salary, but most postdocs are young enough that it's ridiculously cheap.

    So why the 1.5x multiplier in your raise equation?

  • Candid Engineer says:

    Sorry, 1.6x multiplier.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Probably because if you partially offset the eyepopping benefits for the Full Professoriat with an extra tax on the peons you get the administrative benefits of having one rate (or at least fewer rates) to oversee and a lower top-end

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Not quite. It has to do with how our postdocs are classified as employees and how the benefits are handled is going to vary significantly from one institution to the next. In some, this calculation won't apply if they have a flat rate. Unfortunately for me, they do here.

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